The Los Angeles Kings are in unfamiliar territory with a 3-1 best-of-seven series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals, after come-from-behind series wins over the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks earlier in the postseason. On Wednesday night, the Kings will look to close out the Blackhawks in Game Five at United Center to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years.
The Kings made history when they recovered from 3-0 series deficit to beat the Sharks in seven games, and followed that up with back-to-back victories over the Ducks in the final two games of the series. The pressure is now on L.A. to eliminate the defending champions in a perhaps pivotal series matchup in Chicago. While Game Six is in Los Angeles, the Kings would no doubt want to avoid the prospect of returning to Chicago for Game Seven.
At the moment, the Kings look more like the team in 2012 that lost only two games before the Finals, finding the right balance with an explosive attack and staunch defense.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks appear to be in disarray on both sides of the ice, but could bounce back like they did against Detroit in the conference semifinals last year with three straight wins after falling into a 3-1 hole.
L.A.’s attack exploded for the third straight time in Game Four’s 5-2 trouncing of the Blackhawks, highlighted by power-play goals from Jake Muzzin and Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik’s 10th goal of the postseason all in the first period. The Kings would go 2-for-3 on the power play, and Chicago was blanked 0-for-3. The Blackhawks haven’t been able to convert on seven straight power plays, and not since Game Two have they scored with a man advantage.
Center Anze Kopitar also chipped in with two assists, and notched a plus-2, while Kings goalie Johnathan Quick totaled 22 saves off 24 attempts. Quick hasn’t been as dominate as he was in 2012, when he recorded a .946 save percentage and 1.45 goals allowed, but he’s come up with timely saves and largely outplayed Chicago counterpart Corey Crawford.
Riding by far his worst stretch in these playoffs so far, Crawford has let up 13 goals in his last three starts, but he battled through a similar poor stretch in the comeback against Detroit and surrendered only five total goals in the last three games.
The blame and redemption can’t all be placed on Crawford though, with Chicago also needing some resurgence from its top two lines. First-line mates Bryan Bickell, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews have combined for four goals in the series, with Hossa failing to score yet and Bickell only just snapping his four-game goal-less streak in Game Four.
The same goes for second line stars Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. The duo combined for a team-best 19 goals during last year’s Cup run, but Kane has scored once in his last nine games and Sharp three times all postseason. Kane was especially instrumental in last year’s series victory over the Kings, recording a hat trick with his winning goal in the deciding 4-3 double overtime Game Five.
Start Time: Wednesday, 8 p.m. EST
TV Channel: NBC Sports Network
Live Online Stream Info: A live online stream is available at NBC Live Extra here
Betting Odds: Chicago -1.5
Over/Under: 5 goals
Prediction: Chicago over L.A., 4-3